BEIRUT (AP) – 8:30 p.m.
Russia says it will veto a French-drafted U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire in Aleppo and the grounding of all aircraft, which would include Moscow's, over the besieged Syrian city.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that the Security Council should instead rally around the proposal made by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura for an al-Qaida-linked militant faction to leave Aleppo in exchange for a halt to Russian and Syrian government bombardment.
He told reporters after de Mistura briefed the council Friday behind closed doors that "the French proposal is very hastily put together, and I frankly believe that this is designed not to make progress" in ending the current stalemate "but to cause a Russian veto."
Churkin said it was "unprecedented" that the 15-member council would ask one of the five permanent members to limit its activities, in this case requiring the Russian military to stop flights.
Asked if Russia will veto the French draft, Churkin said he never uses the word until he gets instructions from Moscow, but "I cannot possibly see how we can let this resolution pass."
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters after Churkin spoke that a vote on its resolution, co-sponsored by Spain, will go ahead on Saturday.
Syrian opposition activists are reporting intense clashes in the northwestern province of Idlib between two of Syria's most powerful insurgent groups.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes began when the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham attacked positions of the extremist Jund al-Aqsa group in several areas in Idlib. It said nine Ahrar al-Sham fighters were killed.
The Local Coordination Committees said Ahrar al-Sham fighters captured the Mastoumeh base, a former Syrian army barracks, from Jund al-Aqsa Friday afternoon.
Fighting between the two groups is uncommon but some insurgents have complained about Jund al-Aqsa's extremist ideology.
A Jund al-Aqsa member who goes by the name of Abu Waqqas confirmed the intensity of the fighting, adding that "the Ahrar are shelling us with multiple rocket launchers."
The Russian military says it has killed about 35,000 militants in Syria since the start of its air campaign there a year ago.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Friday that the number includes about 2,700 residents of Russia and other ex-Soviet nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that between 5,000 and 7,000 people from Russia and other ex-Soviet nations were fighting alongside the Islamic State group and other militants in Syria.
Russia launched its air campaign in Syria a year ago, turning the tide of the war and helping Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces win back key territory. Moscow says the campaign's goal is to fight terrorism.
A U.S.-Russia brokered cease-fire in Syria collapsed last month, badly straining ties between Moscow and Washington. Antonov blamed the U.S. for the truce's collapse.
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says Saturday will be a "a moment of truth," especially for Russia, when it puts a resolution calling for a cease-fire and no-fly zone in Aleppo to a vote in the U.N. Security Council.
Calling Syria a "human tragedy," he told reporters after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Friday that "you have to do anything to find the solution through a new possibility of negotiation."
Ayrault said the question for all 15 Security Council members, but particularly Russia, is: "Do you, yes or no, want a cease-fire in Aleppo?"
He said two demands are absolute: A cease-fire and no fly zone over Aleppo and access for humanitarian aid.
Russia, a close Syrian ally, rejects the grounding of aircraft over Aleppo and has questioned the timing of the resolution drafted by France and Spain.
At the current rate of fighting, Ayrault lamented, "Aleppo will be totally destroyed by Christmas."
France's U.N. ambassador says he wants to put a draft resolution aimed at stopping "the bloodbath in Aleppo" to a vote in the Security Council.
Francois Delattre told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that after a week of negotiations, "We are close to the moment of truth and now it is up to the Security Council and its 15 members to take their responsibilities."
He did not say when a vote will take place.
The draft resolution seeks an immediate truce in Aleppo and calls for an end to all military flights over the Syrian city, where over a quarter million people in rebel-held areas are besieged by Syrian forces.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has rejected any grounding of aircraft and questioned whether a resolution at this time would actually produce any results.
An international relief organization says hospitals in the eastern side of Syria's Aleppo have been attacked 23 times since July, damaging all eight facilities that have not yet been shuttered or destroyed.
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement Friday that one of east Aleppo's two main surgical facilities has been out of service since Oct. 1. The organization supports eight hospitals across the city.
The U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped in a Russian-backed government siege of the city's rebel-held eastern districts, subjected to relentless bombardment.
"The situation is unbearable," said Carlos Francisco, MSF's head of mission to Syria. "The few remaining doctors with the capability to save lives are also confronting death."
A spokesman for an al-Qaida-linked militant faction in Syria has rejected a proposal by a U.N. envoy to withdraw their fighters from eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 275,000 people are trapped in a government siege.
Hossam al-Shafai of the Fatah al-Sham Front wrote on Twitter Friday that the group is "determined to break the siege" on the city's opposition-held neighborhoods.
Russian and Syrian government forces have been bombarding the city's east for months on the grounds that they are fighting terrorism. Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura on Thursday urged the group's estimated 900 fighters inside the city to leave in exchange for a halt to Russian and Syrian government bombardment.
Russia's lower house of parliament has ratified a treaty with Syria that allows the Russian military to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country.
The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted unanimously Friday to ratify the deal, which formalizes Russia's military presence at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia.
The move comes as a show of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. The deal allows Russia to use the base free of charge, and for as long as it requires.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria a year ago, reversing the tide of war and helping Assad's forces win back key ground. Moscow says its goal is to help the Syrian army fight terrorism.
Russia also has a naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.
The foreign ministers of Italy and Spain are calling for immediate action to end the deteriorating condition in Aleppo, where thousands of civilians are under siege by the government.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni referred to the siege as a "terrible humanitarian tragedy," during a press conference in Ankara on Friday. He urged Turkey to ask Russia to put pressure on Damascus to halt its offensive. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled visit Istanbul next week.
In a separate press conference in Ankara, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo called for the United Nations' Security Council to "immediately" find a solution to the crisis.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described conditions in eastern Aleppo, where 275,000 people are trapped under a government siege, as "worse than a slaughterhouse."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow backs the U.N. Syria envoy's call on al-Qaida-linked militants to leave the besieged city of Aleppo.
Hundreds of people have died as the Syrian army backed by Russian warplanes has stepped up its offensive on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura urged fighters from Fatah al-Sham Front, previously known as the Nusra Front, to evacuate to another part of the country to save the ancient city from complete destruction.
Lavrov backed de Mistura's proposal, saying Friday that Moscow is ready to ask Damascus to allow the militants to leave the city with their weapons "for the sake of saving Aleppo."
He added that policies must also be developed to deal with other militants who choose to stay in Aleppo.
The Russian parliament is discussing the ratification of a treaty with Syria that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country.
Lawmakers spoke in favor of the agreement, in a sign of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Moscow has backed throughout the devastating civil war.
The vote is to be held later Friday.
The treaty allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, Assad's Alawite heartland, as long as it wants.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria a year ago, reversing the tide of war and helping Assad's forces win some key ground. Moscow says it seeks to help the Syrian army fight terrorism.
Russia also has a naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.